Bush, Abbas intentions

A DISPARITY between word and deed hovered over the meeting yesterday between the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and President Bush. It was noticeable in Bush's praise for Abbas and in his listing of things that Israel and the Palestinians must do to advance the chances for peace. It was a leitmotiv in what Abbas said of his own plans and in what he asked of Israel. As has happened too often in the past, leaders reluctant to take the risks required for peace seemed merely to be going through the motions.

If Bush really wants to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he will have to convene final-status peace talks. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will have to abandon his penchant for unilateral actions. And before peace talks begin, Abbas will have to make every effort to disarm Hamas and other militias that reject his policy of a negotiated two-state solution with Israel.

In his public remarks, Abbas registered complaints that any Palestinian leader would have to air. He called for an end to Israeli roadblocks that make daily life difficult and humiliating for nearly all Palestinians. Freedom of movement is crucial for the economic development that Palestinians must begin to see soon if they are to support Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the legislative elections schedule for January.

Abbas was also speaking for his people when he asked for a halt to settlement expansion in the West Bank. Palestinians perceive continued thickening of settlements as proof that Israel has no intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state on land that is not divided into multiple separate enclaves.

If the Sharon government hopes to see Abbas and the Palestinian Authority win a dominant share of parliamentary seats in the January elections, holding the Islamist movement Hamas to a negligible minority that is unable to block a peace agreement, then Sharon should freeze settlement expansion now to help show Palestinian voters that Abbas is a true national leader capable of achieving benefits for his people.

On this issue, Bush said the right thing yesterday. Alluding to the road map to Mideast peace sponsored by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia, Bush said: ''Israel should not undertake any activity that contravenes its road map obligations." And Bush called on Israel to stop settlement construction and open crossings from Gaza to the West Bank. For these gestures to become meaningful, however, they must be transformed into deeds leading directly to what should be the goal of US policy -- a goal Abbas invoked when he said, ''The time has come to move quickly toward the resumption of final-status negotiations."

This is the way to bring a just and durable peace within reach.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company